Social Distancing Etiquette: Tips To Ensure Safe Distancing At Your Store Before The Holiday Season Kicks In 

Social Distancing during a health emergency is nothing new. On September 17, 1918 Philadelphia detected its first case of a deadly, fast-spreading strain of influenza. City officials moved quickly, attempting to halt the virus’ spread by launching a campaign against coughing, spitting, and sneezing in public. Two good moves, however, weren’t enough to offset the effects of one horribly bad move. Despite the obvious health concerns, the city hosted a parade attended by 200,000 people 10 days later. 

After that parade, flu cases accelerated, continuing to mount until finally, on October 3, schools, churches, theaters, and public gathering spaces were shut down. Only two weeks after the first reported case, there were at least 20,000 more. This was the beginning of the Spanish Flu pandemic, which lasted until 1920 and is considered the deadliest pandemic in modern history. 

Today, we’re experiencing another pandemic as COVID-19 infection rates continue to grow. And with the holiday season upon us, there are a whole new set of challenges facing the retail world as Black Friday (and more shopping days) approach: how to encourage proper and safe social distancing etiquette guidelines for your store. 

Strategic Crowd Control 

It’s a fine balance: controlling your environment enough to keep things manageable, but not so much as to make the customer experience unpleasant.

According to the Harvard Business Review, experts agree that the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus is to lower the number of people in the store at any one time. For some retailers, that can mean using more remote or even popup locations. Since most stores don’t have that luxury, some crowd management becomes necessary. Retailers can focus on making the shopping experience more efficient by using more upbeat/active background music that encourages quicker shopping. Another tactic can involve applying limits on the number of customers allowed to enter the store at a time, staggering the process so that new customers may enter as others leave.

Staff on Hand

Retailers also can make sure they have adequate staffing on hand during peak holiday shopping times to prevent customers from waiting too long for assistance. This is particularly true of your checkout registers. All sales staff should be up-to-date on ways to help customers make quicker purchase decisions. When sales transactions happen faster, social distancing becomes less of an issue.

Age Before Everything Else

Another strategy retailers have used successfully is in reserving certain hours for senior citizens and other higher-risk customers. Again, this can help expedite shopper time in your store and assist in creating a safe and socially-distanced atmosphere. Plus, some of your customers may actually appreciate a reserved shopping time of their own. 

Sign ‘Em Up

Social distancing floor stickers are a must-have. They both help customers to be mindful of keeping a healthy distance from their fellow customers and help staff judge that distance easily. It also provides your staff with inarguable authority: it is, after all, right there on the floor. Window safety signs, A-frame safety signs – any and all signs like these can also be strategically placed to create an all-encompassing strategy for safe shopping.

Adjust Your Store’s Layout to Encourage Distancing 

We’ve all experienced problems with customer traffic flow through shopping aisles. Whether it is socializing shoppers blocking a walkway, a mix of slow shoppers and quick grab-and-go customers navigating narrow lanes, or the occasional abandoned shopping cart, just getting access to your store’s merchandise can use a bit of creative strategy to help ensure healthy social distancing etiquette. 

Consider temporarily converting aisles into one-way traffic paths for the holiday shopping season. Cutting down on carts headed in opposing directions can help eliminate traffic jams and speed up the overall shopping time. Rearrange inventory so that steady-selling items and frequently-purchased staples are arranged closer to the store entrances and nearer to each other. Instead of arrows and signs to direct flow, build temporary displays and subtle barriers disguised as promotions to help customers move organically in the safest traffic flow. Work on a redesign that makes social distancing requirements clear and consistent, more of a natural extension of normal behavior. This will create socially positive experiences for your customers and keep them coming back. 

Safety Mask First

Harvard Business Review recommends applying techniques from behavioral science to influence customer behavior when it comes to mask-wearing. Replace lettered signage – Please Wear a Mask –  with “posters of mask-wearing local customers and employees giving [the] thumbs-up. This provides ‘in-group’ models to emphasize shared identity, establish connections, and promote norms among customers.”

Not Everybody Will Play By the Rules 

Don’t forget about the role your employees play in social distancing etiquette. Not only do employees have their usual responsibilities, but they also can run the risk of becoming the target of bad customer behavior. Customer frustration is a common occurrence even when holidays aren’t involved, but in times that require a little more patience and understanding, some folks forget to play by the rules. Just remember: it’s not your staff’s job to enforce the law. If an unruly customer refuses to cooperate or becomes abusive and potentially violent, call law enforcement. 


How some cities ‘flattened the curve’ during the 1918 flu pandemic

National Geographic 

What Safe Shopping Looks Like During the Pandemic

Harvard Business Review 

Social Distancing Guidance for Essential Retail Businesses

New Jersey Department of Health 

Store workers become enforcers of social distancing rules

Portland Press Herald 

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